When fans descend upon Memorial Stadium for the first time this season, before they even enter the gates they will be greeted by fond memories, thanks to some of the prominently-displayed most recognizable faces in Kansas football history.
From John Hadl and Gale Sayers to Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, the giant likenesses of Jayhawks associated with on-field success are now plastered on the outside of the team’s nearly century-old home.
One of the 15 player banners even represents someone they can watch live and in person — the most talented player on the 2017 roster, star defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Third-year Kansas football coach David Beaty never has seen junior Armstrong get a big head about any of his accomplishments, so it was an easy decision to sign off on adding the standout defensive end to the stadium’s exterior.
“The one thing that is basically the common denominator amongst those guys is production, right? Dorance is the first All-Big 12 unanimous pick that we’ve had here,” Beaty said. “So that really was where the decision-making was, because that was all above my pay grade, in terms of who went in there. They certainly talked to me about it a little bit.”
When the banners first began appearing on the old facade, someone texted a photo of Armstrong’s to him the first day it went up, in early August.
“I had to make that drive over there and take a picture for myself and send it to my family,” Armstrong said. “I was excited for it.”
Predictably, Armstrong’s family members — particularly his mother, Carol Watson, who “put it out everywhere” — were thrilled by the latest distinction for the Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
As usual, the humble defensive lineman downplayed the honor.
“I don’t want one thing to feel bigger than the other. It’s keeping me going,” Armstrong said. “That’s what I’m going to use it as.”
Here’s a quick look at the 15 KU players represented on the stadium — although Beaty hinted he’d like to see more former players added in the future.
The Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, as a senior the linebacker made 112 total tackles, including 13 for loss. His 416 career tackles are second in program history (Willie Pless, No. 1, 633).
A first-team All-American in 2007 and the MVP of the 2008 Orange Bowl, the former KU corner picked off 13 passes in his college days, ranking him second all-time in program history.
Dorance Armstrong Jr.
A consensus All-Big 12 first-team defensive end as a sophomore, Armstrong racked up 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago, making him the leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year as a junior.
In two of his final three seasons the home-state linebacker recorded triple-digit tackles: 112 total as a sophomore and 127 as a senior.
During four seasons, the cornerback totaled 290 tackles (198 solo). As a junior, in 2009, Harris’ nine passes defended ranked 10th in the nation.
He played both receiver and corner for the Jayhawks. In 2005, his final season at KU, Gordon made 34 receptions, scored two offensive touchdowns, totaled 28 tackles and picked off two passes. His seven interceptions in 2004 are the third-best single-season total in program history. He also has returned more career punts (96) than any other Jayhawk.
Ray Evans, John Hadl and Gale Sayers
The only three players whose jerseys have been retired by KU.
Evans (No. 42) is the program’s all-time leader in interceptions, with 17 in the 1940s, including a Kansas-best 10 in 1942. He made first-team All-America in 1947.
Hadl (No. 21) received first-team All-America nods in both 1960 and 1961. He played quarterback and halfback and became a three-time all-conference selection, ending his career with 1,281 passing yards and 1,016 rushing yards.
Sayers (No. 48) joined Hadl as a two-time All-American in 1963 and 1964. He rushed for 2,675 yards and 19 touchdowns in his career. In 1962 he averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
A key contributor in the secondary and as a returner, Stuckey topped 90 total tackles in each of his final two college seasons, 2008 and 2009. He averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return as a senior. As a junior, he picked off five passes, contributing to his career total of eight.
KU’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,240), touchdown receptions (31) and 100-yard games (14), Briscoe also is responsible for the two best individual receiving games in program history: 269 yards versus Oklahoma in 2008, and 242 against Missouri in 2009.
A receiver-turned-defensive back, Shepherd also returned a Big-12 best 37 kickoffs as as senior, in 2014, leading the league with 773 yards in that category. In his final two seasons, as a corner, he defended 24 passes. Shepherd’s 14 defended as a senior ranked seventh nationally.
The Jayhawks’ all-time leader in receptions (226), Meier owns the two best season totals in that category, too, with 102 in 2009, a year after totaling 97. Meier’s 2,309 career yards and 18 career TD’s rank second to Briscoe.
A first-team All-American offensive lineman his junior year, in 2007, Collins was an Outland Trophy finalist. The massive tackle helped block for two of the 14 1,000-yard rushers in KU history, Jon Cornish and Brandon McAnderson
Name a KU career passing record and Reesing owns it: total yards (11,194), completions (932), attempts (1,461), TD passes (90), completion percentage (63.3%), yards per game (273), 400-yard passing games (4), 300-yard passing games (18).
It’s been nearly a full decade since Kansas caught the college football world off guard, finishing the 2007 season with a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory.
The Jayhawks’ quarterback at the time — the last exceptional QB to suit up for KU — Todd Reesing paid homage to that remarkable run in an interview with SB Nation’s Bill Connelly for a feature that focused on the unexpected rise of Kansas and rival Missouri that season.
Reesing reflected not only on an epic Border War that decided the winner of the Big 12 North at Arrowhead Stadium — a 36-28 Tigers victory — but also the path that led to it in the aptly titled article, “That time Missouri vs. Kansas was suddenly the rivalry of the year … in football.”
After Kansas obliterated non-conference opponents Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International in Sept. 2007, Reesing told SB Nation it was KU’s Big 12 opener, a 30-24 road victory over Kansas State, that established the Jayhawks as a legit threat that season.
"That was a place we hadn’t won at in 18 years. Our team had been historically poor on the road, poor in Manhattan, et cetera,” Reesing told Connelly. "Our offense was putting up pretty staggering points and yards and everything else, but everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, but they haven’t played anybody. That’ll change when they get to the Big 12.’ So to go up there and really not even have that great a day offensively — I think I threw three interceptions — but be able to show our grit in getting a late score on offense and a stop on defense ... that was really the point where everyone said, ‘We’ve got something here.’"
Reesing’s memory proved accurate. In that victory, which propelled KU into the top 25, he completed 22 of 35 passes for 267 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
He would experience far fewer struggles four weeks later, when the Jayhawks really began turning heads, with a 76-39 drubbing of traditional power Nebraska. Reesing went 30-for-41, with 354 passing yards and six touchdowns.
“I remember talking to a coach on the sideline and saying, ‘Hey, let’s try to score 100!’ They had beaten the pants off of Kansas for, what was it, 50 straight years before we beat them in 2005?" Reesing tried to recall. (It was 36, Connelly points out.) "And often by pretty lopsided margins. I thought we could get them one real bad whoopin’! That was one really enjoyable game to play. It was a beautiful day in Lawrence."
Since Reesing finished his KU career in 2009, the program has won three or fewer games every year.
This fall, third-year coach David Beaty and his 2017 Jayhawks aim to become the first KU team to win at least four games since the era of Reesing and former coach Mark Mangino.
— Check out the full article at SB Nation to read more from the perspective of Reesing, and his Missouri counterpart, Chase Daniel.